Sunday, April 29, 2012

Ian Fleming's The Spy Who Loved Me, Or: When Ian Almost Killed Off 007

The Spy Who Loved Me is a good James Bond book. I know he thought that it was terrible and felt that the experiment in writing about Bond from a woman's point of view failed miserably but that simply isn't the case (he hated it so much, he asked that it not be reprinted--ever). You can make the case that Fleming stank at writing from a female point of view, because I don't think Vivienne Michal sounds much like a real woman at all, but that's a minor point and we must admit that most male writer do not write female characters very well. Female writers, on the flip side, also do not write male characters very well. It's a Mars / Venus thing. You can't write about what you don't understand.

The story of how Vivienne Michal, the heroine we spend time with throughout the story, encounters James Bond doesn't give us much insight to Bond as a character, but it's a fun ride, and I think we've had all the insight required from the other books. There isn't much more to reveal about him at that point in the series.

While working alone at a roadside motel, Michal is harassed by the mafia thugs who arrive to carry out a scheme for their boss, who owns the motel, and Michal will be the unfortunate victim of that scheme. Fleming's dialogue for his bad guys sounds like he copied it from a bad 1930s Bogart movie; however, the two thugs themselves are very well drawn and one of them even has metal teeth which must have inspired the Jaws character who appeared in the film version. The hostage situation he describes is also nail-biting. When James Bond, after getting a flat tire, shows up at the motel, we let out the breath we've been holding because the brave knight has arrived to rescue the damsel in distress. Bond is quickly recruited to save Vivienne (not that it takes much!) and he does so in typical fashion.

I think it was with this book that Fleming toyed with killing off 007, having tired of the character and the hassles of dreaming up new adventures. It would have been the perfect vehicle. Instead of a third person report on the death of Bond (like he tried, almost, in From Russia, With Love), we have an eye witness report. The tell-tale sign occurs just before the final battle. Fleming practically foreshadows Bond's death when he tells her to "remember who I was". He gives her his 007 recognition number and runs off to fight. She wonders why he would use the past tense, and in the suspenseful fight that follows we hold our breath as Bond and the baddies shoot it out.

Of course, Fleming did not kill off 007 and he followed up this novel with the terrific On Her Majesty's Secret Service.

My only complaint about the story is how many times Bond apologies to Michal for this, that, and the other, usually after he fails to accomplish a goal, or a trick fails, or for some other reason, and while he may be trying to reassure her that he can finish the job, it made him seem weak.

Other than that, if you've avoided The Spy Who Loved Me because of its reputation as one of the lesser Bond books, give it a read. I dare you to put it down--you won't be able to. I think you'll find it earns its place in the Bond Canon quite nicely.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

REVIEW: How to Survive Anything by David & Yetta Kane

How to Survive Anything has been a hard book to review. It makes you take stock of your life and evaluate how you see yourself and your current situation. But I'm getting ahead of myself....

The book is about a couple who lived separate lives prior to World War II and weren’t bothering anybody, but then a poor excuse for a carbon unit decided he wanted to start a war. This couple fought their own battles through that war, on the run, in the camps, and neither survived unscathed.  Mothers, fathers, siblings, entire life histories were lost.

What they did with their lives after emerging from the battlefield is where their story really begins.

What did I learn reading How to Survive Anything by David and Yetta Kane? First, I learned that no matter how tough things have been for me the last few years, I was never in a Nazi concentration camp. The Nazis did not kill members of my family or force me from my home. Second, I learned that no matter how hard things have been for me the last few years (unemployment, moving constantly, scraping by, busted relationships and personal tragedies), they are but a drop in the bucket compared to the overall length of my life, and to wallow on the pain and difficulty of those years is counterproductive to what else life has in store for me. There’s something wonderful beyond where I am; it’s my job to go and find it.

The Kanes tell a story of Rising Above. Fill in your own blank after that.  In their case, the horrors of World War II. In your case…what? Abuse? Sickness? Fear?

After the war the Kanes came to the United States for a new start, and they have certainly made the most of that start. There was no time for a pity party. There were only new opportunities! As a rabbi, David has used his position to change the story of his life from despair, fear, and death, to faith, hope, and love. Who else does that? Why is it so easy to stay negative and define ourselves by our troubles?  And don’t give me any “I don’t like religion” garbage—you don’t have to be religious to “get” their story. This is a story about people of faith, yes, but if you dismiss it because of that you're wrong to do so. What the Kanes made me realize is that the rough patches in life are indeed patches and our attitudes shape how we recover. David Kane tells a great joke about a fellow who broke a leg in an accident, and started laughing.  When asked why he was laughing, the fellow said, “I could have broken them both!”  

The real survivors.
Attitude is everything, they say. You can remain down in the dumps, pulling a woe is me act, but if you do you will always be in that place.

Or you can be determined to survive and stay positive and know that there’s Something More for you Somewhere Out There and go and find it.  It took many years for the Kanes to see the fruits of their efforts; now, with a family that has multiplied beyond their dreams, a ministry, if you will, that reaches thousands every year, they can look the past in the eye and say not only did they survive, but we thrived, and we took what somebody meant for evil and turned it into good. They speak at a lot of high schools, and the letters section of the book, which displays the feedback from students, makes one believe that perhaps the U.S. is more than a population of mush-headed bon-bon sucking half-wits who vote for a hand out.

I don’t mean to write such a charged review, but the constant weeping and gnashing of teeth that Americans have demonstrated since a certain someone was elected in 2008 leaves me sick to my stomach. Students are protesting high tuition costs? Can’t find a job? Gas prices are too high? Can't retire? Cry me a river! Would you prefer to be marched naked into an oven or forced to play a violin while others around you burn stacks of bodies that contain the remains of your relatives? Americans need a wake-up call louder than any trumpet Gabriel can blow.

The Kanes paint a picture of two individuals who said NO to the pity party and carried on with strength and courage.

Remember, Hitler blew his brains out.

But the Kanes are still alive.

You lose, Adolf.

How to Survive Anything by David and Yetta Kane is available at Amazon.Com.  Here is a link to their personal website and I encourage you to check it out.

Your education as a human being is incomplete until you read this book.  It’s going to be one of those books you keep around for when you need a reminder that nothing can defeat you except yourself.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Inspiration is Where You Find It

Does any writer like the "where do you get your ideas?" question? I don't. Luckily, I don't get asked that very often but lately I have discovered a terrific source of inspiration and I thought it would be of interest to you, my fellow writers, and maybe it will provide a compact answer when some knucklehead brings up your ideas over cocktails.

When you write thrillers (as I do), it is important to have either experienced thrilling things, know of thrilling things, or to be able to make things that are not thrilling into things that are. A scan of the daily news can, usually, produce material for at least one decent thriller depending on your imagination (Michael Newton made the same point in How to Write Action Adventure Novels). One thing that helps one's skill in using the day's events for story fodder is learning how other writers do it, and the best source of this sort--for me--is a coffee table book called JAMES BOND: THE LEGACY by John Cork and Bruce Scivally. This huge tome covers the entire history of the first 20 James Bond movies and even gives a few pages worth of mention to a chap named Ian Fleming who wrote the original novels (which are better than the movies, but that's another article for another forum).

Throughout the book, you read not only how the movies were made and the behind-the-scenes machinations that took place, but you get an insight into what was happening in the world at the time, politically, socially, etc., and how some of those events made it into the writer's room and eventually into the Bond movie scripts and how those events were molded and shaped to fit the final version of the films. It has made me reconsider how I look at current and historical events and how I might use those to my own advantage.

Some examples: Dr. No, about a madman's plan to alter the course of U.S. rocket launches, used the Cuban Missile Crisis as a springboard. You Only Live Twice used the space race as a backdrop. Goldfinger took advantage of developing technology (the infamous laser cutter being a prime example and Bond's DB5 another). The energy crisis of the 1970s played a heavy role in The Man with the Golden Gun. Diplomatic efforts to maintain the balance of world power between the U.S. and Soviet Union in the '80s influenced For Your Eyes Only. Nuclear expansion, disarmament, and fears of Soviet aggression in Europe fueled the story behind Octopussy.  Of course, nothing overtly political ever made it into the movies which is a skill in and of itself. All we saw was an exciting story taking place in exotic locations, fantastic and silly in some cases, but anchored somewhere north of reality.

I am currently writing a series called The Rogue Gentleman, about a globe-trotting adventurer named Steve Dane who rights wrongs wherever he finds them, and to say he wasn't partially inspired by Bond would be a lie. Steve Dane is very much inspired by our British friend, and by other literary heroes such as Simon Templar. I have quite a career planned for Mr. Dane and seeing how the Bond writers worked has opened the door to ideas I had not previously thought would work, and highlighted events that I either did not know of at the time or was too young (or not alive!) to remember. With a few changes here and there I can not only mine the past but the present as well and turn out stories that will be worth reading for years to come. Perhaps a melding of the two will give me a glimpse into the future and I can use those ideas to produce some real surprises.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Follow Me on Twitter....

I'm not sure why, but what the hell....stay on top of book announcements and the Drake and The Deacon radio show....


Saturday, April 7, 2012

Big Announcement--Brian Drake On The Air!

Part of the reason I have been so quiet lately is because I've been developing a talk show for an internet radio station called RadioSlot.Com. Me and a pal will be doing a weekly show called "Drake and the Deacon" and, no, it's not a religious broadcast. My show partner likes to think he is a "deacon" of all things--whatever. I don't know if even he knows what it means but he does not want to use his real name. And who can blame him? I'm not using my real name, either.

Anyway we record the first show tonight and it should air this week, once I get bio and other promotional materials to the station so they can load it onto the site. RadioSlot.Com has been doing a music format for about ten years now but they want to add a talk radio side, and one of my buddies in the broadcasting industry within which I already work "recruited" me to try this.

Anyway I hope you'll give us a listen but it won't be for everybody. We're doing a mix of commentary on current events, pop culture ridicule, life stuff and whatever else comes up. In the auditions we've done I try to keep things light and funny but the Deacon fancies himself a Mensa candidate so he has to ruin all of my punchlines. He's so smart he can think three steps ahead of me. Whatever! He's nothing without me!